Trade Bill - Committee (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 21st January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Grantchester Lord Grantchester Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 9:30 pm, 21st January 2019

My Lords, the amendments in this group relate to the standards in regulations in rolling over EU trade deals and future trade policies and agreements. As has been said, especially by my noble friend Lady Young, rolling over trade deals needs the agreement of counterparties—this is inherent in procuring a government trade deal. This is not guaranteed in a no-deal scenario. As the UK leaves the European Union, we must ensure that the UK seeks to maintain the highest standards and to comply with international aims and agreements. I declare my interest as a farmer in receipt of EU funds.

I will refer first to Amendments 8 and 53 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. He has spoken on the very pertinent conditions the UK should seek to emulate. I am pleased that the Committee has the opportunity to debate the necessity for the UK trade policy to comply with international law, obligations and shared aims—all part of a modern trade deal.

Later in our proceedings in Committee, my noble friend and colleague Lord Stevenson will seek in amendments to enshrine the Government’s international responsibilities on trade. Amendments 8 and 53 will ensure that trade agreements are consistent with international norms. I am pleased in particular by the inclusion of the provisions of the United Nations sustainable development goals. It is paramount that the UK’s trade endeavours seek to do more than merely advance our own self-interest, as so eloquently argued by my noble friend Lord Judd. This includes the abolition of poverty, the eradication of diseases and efforts to rid the world of the harshest of inequalities. Each of these aims, as part of the UN’s SDGs, requires a cross-departmental approach from the UK, and that includes the Department for International Trade. As we look further down these amendments, we also see that aside from the UN SDGs, such agreements must comply with other such norms as those tackling discrimination, climate change and the erosion of human rights, as well as other issues that we will discuss—all righteous efforts that the Department for International Trade would do well to encompass into future agreements.

As debated earlier, this legislation, in seeking to roll over existing trade agreements previously in the competence of the EU, must also include opportunities for the Government to set out their future policies and demonstrate the parameters within which their future policy will be guided—indeed, what future trade policy should achieve. These amendments would ensure that the future trade policy achieves the advancement more than just of the UK but of the wider world.

Amendments 10, 13, 14, 25 and 26 make provision to ensure that Governments are compliant with particular standards pertaining throughout the UK. I welcome the amendments and thank the noble Baronesses for tabling them, even if the precise wording may need redrafting. It is vital that agreements do not compromise the quality of UK food and agriproduce, which has a proud international reputation that consumers insist on and which farmers are proud to maintain. It should be the responsibility of Parliament to insist to the Government that they uphold these standards so that the public’s trust in the procurement of their food is not undermined. These amendments propose that that be underpinned by statute.

For those who argue that such an amendment is unnecessary to protect food standards, I will briefly mention the United States’ Defect Levels Handbook, which allows standards that would include 30 insect fragments in a 100 gram jar of peanut butter and 3 milligrams of rat droppings per pound of ginger. Those are significantly below EU-wide standards. In search of trade agreements for the import and export of goods, the UK cannot compromise on food standards and allow a dispensation for access to UK markets of these levels of contamination while UK producers maintain their higher standards.

In relation to the UK’s agricultural regime, the Committee must be aware that, as the UK leaves the CAP, there will be enormous changes and volatility for the farming industry to adapt to, which the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, drew attention to. In this moment, it must be must be assured that there will not be lower standards of competition in the food chain.

Linked to agriculture is the matter of animal welfare, and the Committee must be assured that high protocols of care are maintained in the UK’s future trading policy. When it comes to our environmental standards, which Amendment 15 also deals with, we must be equally vigilant to ensure that agreements cause no erosion of standards. Sustainability must be at the heart of the UK’s approach, taking heed of previous examples where agreements have caused environmental harm—and could do again, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said. Negotiations should not lead to the derogation of the natural environment either in the UK or in the nations of the trading partners. The time to tackle the effects of climate change is also reducing and I hope that the Government will not seek to put fundamental environmental principles to one side.

Amendment 10 concerns public services. As we seek to renegotiate trade agreements, there will be tremendous pressure for DIT officials to succumb to the demands of all other Governments, yet the management of public services—an issue that carries great public interest —should not be bargained away. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, is correct to be anxious with regard to the NHS, at the very least. I hope that the Minister will offer particular clarity on the Government’s position on this, in addition to other matters.

While these amendments deal with the standards and conditions that UK trade agreements must comply with, my noble friend Lady Young and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, also raised the question of the process whereby these deals will be assessed and measured—the framework around compliance, which has so far not been clarified by the Government. Parliament needs a strong voice in this process. International trade offers opportunities for prosperity and benefit to the economy, but that cannot be at the expense of domestic standards in food, animal welfare and the environment or of international best ethics and practice.